Texas Tech Veteran Receivers Finally Get A Shot To Star In 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Thomas Cletcher
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Thomas Cletcher /

As the Texas Tech football program looks to replace three starting receivers from last season, several players that have been in the program for multiple years will finally have an opportunity to make their mark this fall.

Over the past two decades, Texas Tech has produced as many star wide receivers as any program in the nation.  From Wes Welker and Danny Amendola to Michael Crabtree, Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant, Red Raider pass catchers have dominated the Big 12 like no other position group.

But for the first time since the early days of the “Air Raid” era, Texas Tech enters the season with question marks across the board at receiver this year.  But where there are questions, there are also opportunities.

What makes the 2018 receiving corps fascinating is that a number of veteran players who have been in the system for years are finally going to have an opportunity to be the stars of the offense. While most of these players have been significant contributors on special teams and on the scout team, they have patiently waited for their turn to star and now, opportunities abound.

Perhaps no player will be easier to root for than sixth-year senior Ja’Deion High.  The Hereford, Texas native redshirted in 2013 and saw action on special teams in four games the next season.  In 2015, he started two games, including the season opener and he was primed to play an important role in 2016 before a broken foot ended his season after three games.

High returned to the field last season but was stuck behind Keke Coutee and Cam Batson on the depth chart.  For his career, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has just 21 catches in 25 career games for 223 yards and one touchdown.

But the coaching staff is expecting High to be a factor this fall.  As proof, he was one of the four Texas Tech player representatives to speak at Big 12 Media Days in July.

High enters fall camp as the frontrunner to earn the starting job at the “Y” inside receiver position, which was occupied by Batson last season.  Additionally, Kliff Kingsbury is counting on High and fellow senior receiver Zach Austin to add a veteran presence on the field and in the locker room.

"“He’s just told us, we’re the older guys. He wants us to lead the group,” High told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “Put some of our experience and knowledge on some of the young kids. Try to give them the answers to the test so they don’t have to try to figure everything out on their own.”"

As for Austin, another sixth-year senior (who has missed the last two seasons due to injury), he could be a steadying presence on a Texas Tech offense breaking in up to five new starters. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound inside receiver has just six games of experience making 22 catches for 238 yards and a touchdown.

But what Austin lacks in experience on the field, he makes up for with his knowledge of the system.  He could be a go-to option on third down because he is a player the coaches trust to always be in the right position.

"“He plays well when he’s healthy,” Kingsbury said of Austin last spring. “He’s one of those gamers. Any time he’s in, he has a knack for getting open. He’s a competitive kid, and it’s been awesome watching him get better and better, and he’s the best he’s ever been.”"

Austin has always been a player that has impressed in scrimmages and in practices, if he can put it together this fall and avoid the injury bug that has plagued him during his career, he could be a key cog in the offense.

While High and Austin look to be options in the slot, junior outside receiver Antoine Wesley is being considered for a starting position opposite sophomore T.J. Vasher.  The Las Vegas, Nevada product has appeared in 17 games grabbing 10 passes 137 yards while at Texas Tech.

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With this summer’s dismissal from the program of presumed starter Quan Shorts, Wesley became the leading candidate to start at the “X” receiver position.  And Wesley cemented that spot with a solid spring performance.  (Though a hip injury caused him to miss the final five spring practices.)

Another intriguing veteran looking to earn a role in the offense is 6-foot-5 Donta Thompson, a fourth-year junior who could be a unique weapon this fall.  The 225-pounder should see time at both wide receiver, especially in the red zone where he could be a target on jump balls, and in the slot where he could be a hybrid tight end used to block as well as catch passes.

Also expected to contribute significantly in the slot this year is senior De’Quan Bowman, a 2016 JUCO transfer entering his third year in the program.  Bowman has only two catches in his career but is the likely successor to Keke Coutee at the “H” receiver spot.  Bowman, a former JUCO All-American honorable mention honoree as a kick returner has been primarily a special teams contributor but he will have every opportunity to star at receiver this fall.

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Though the Red Raiders have to replace an unusually high number of receivers, they have the luxury of turning to veteran players who know the system and who are eager to finally show what they can do.  After waiting their turn, these upperclassmen are now poised to make a name for themselves in 2018.